It Started One Christmas

By: Susan Mallery


Freshman year—the absolute very last day to make up missed labs. Really.

“I THINK OUR lab guy just fainted,” April Herskovic murmured as she put two beakers back in the drawer.

Keira Carlesso spun around to check out the guy sitting at the desk at the front of the lab. Okay, not sitting—he was kind of slumped, but still. As she watched, he shifted to a more upright position. Thank goodness—they only had a couple more items on their list and then they were done with their makeup lab. The last thing she wanted was to fail the assignment because some lab tech passed out.

“He’s moving. Let’s get this done and then we are out of here.”

As she spoke, she realized she wasn’t being the least bit compassionate. What if the guy was really sick? What if he was all alone in the world with no one to take care of him? What if—

She groaned. No. No! She would not be distracted. It was humiliating enough that she and April had to make up the lab in the first place to get this required course out of the way, but they did and they were and it was nearly Christmas and honestly, she just wanted to get done and get home.

“Tongs, three sizes,” Keira said.

April held up three sizes of tongs.

“Triple beam balance.”

They both looked around the lab. Keira spotted it first.

“It’s right there.” She grabbed her pen and paper and raced over to write down the serial number to prove that yes, she’d seen it, touched it, cuddled it and knew what it was. On her way back, she passed by the front desk. The guy there, all pale and sweaty, moaned.

Uh-oh, she thought, returning to their station.

“Done,” she said, waving the paper. “We just need it signed off.”

April glanced doubtfully at the lab guy. “I don’t want him touching my pen. Do you have hand sanitizer?”

Keira pulled out the piña colada–scented gel she always carried because, hey, it was college and the dorms were nothing if not germ incubators. Plus, college-age guys were fairly disgusting when it came to hygiene. She shuddered. Thank goodness she’d been smart enough to request a women-only floor. She did not want to share a bathroom with a bunch of guys.

She and April put away the rest of the supplies, then walked to get their lab report signed as proof that they had completed the assignment. As it really was the very last day of makeups, there had only been a handful of students who had shown up, and the rest of them had already left. She and April were the last students standing, so to speak.

“Finished?” the guy asked, his voice low and husky. Keira noticed his white lab coat had a name badge that read Dalton.

April handed over the paper with both their names on it. He glanced at the sheet.

“You missed the first lab of the quarter?” Dalton asked. “How did you do that?”

April and Keira exchanged a look of frustration. Everyone always asked the same question. It was so embarrassing.

“We didn’t give ourselves enough time to get to the lab,” Keira said with a sigh. “And then we got lost. We were twelve minutes late, and our lab assistant had already locked the door.”

“Huygens,” Dalton said. “He’s a jerk who enjoys torturing freshmen.”

“And you don’t?” Keira asked.

“I have better things to do with my time.” He pulled a pen out of his white jacket pocket and signed their paperwork. “You are done for the quarter, ladies. At least with your science lab. Have a good holiday.”

“You, too,” April said as she headed to the door.

Keira hesitated. She couldn’t help noticing the sweat on Dalton’s forehead and the pallor to his skin. He didn’t look well.

“Are you feeling all right?” she asked.

“Not really.”

April paused, one foot in the hallway. “Keira, come on. I have a plane to catch.”

April lived in eastern Washington and was flying home for Christmas break. Keira had a very short drive to her house, and she would be taking a cab.

“You go ahead,” Keira told her. “I want to make sure Dalton gets to his place okay.” She had to do something to make up for her selfish thoughts from before.

April nodded. “Have a good break. I’ll text you.”


Dalton put his arms on the desk and his head on his arms. “Just go. I’ll be fine.”

“You look awful. Come on. I’ll help you to your car or apartment or whatever. You need to get into bed.”

She half expected an awful leer at her last remark—she’d encountered plenty since starting at the university. But Dalton didn’t stir.

“No, thank you.”

“You’re really sick.”